The White House announced Thursday that it would cancel a U.S.-funded aviation exercise with Uganda and impose a visa ban on officials involved in human rights abuses and corruption as part of a package of steps in response to enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February.
“As President Obama has stated, the Government of Uganda’s enactment of the Anti-Homosexuality Act (AHA) runs counter to universal human rights and complicates our bilateral relationship,” said the NSC Spokesperson Caitlin Hayden in a statement.
In addition to the travel ban and the cancellation of the aviation exercise, the White House also announced that it is “redirecting funds for certain additional programs involving the Ugandan Police Force, Ministry of Health, and National Public Health Institute.”
Hayden’s statement added that none of these measures “diminishes our commitment to providing development and humanitarian support for the Ugandan people, or our partnership with the Ugandan government to counter the murderous Lord’s Resistance Army and improve security in Africa.”
While the US announced some small funding adjustments in late March because of the law, human rights and public health advocates in Uganda and in the US have grown increasingly frustrated with the Obama administration for responding more substantially. They also have criticized the U.S. for sending mixed messages, undermining the impact of the March announcement by simultaneously unveiling military aid important to Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni. Even when an internal review process had put forward recommendations for additional steps in May, the White House delayed taking action.
But initial reaction has been positive to the steps announced today.
Head of Sexual Minorities Uganda Frank Mugisha told BuzzFeed, “The measure have come at an important time because politicians and other governments think the US won’t react” to the passage of anti-LGBT legislation. “For me it’s not only about Uganda, it’s about other countries where politicians think they can use discrimination and homophobia for political purposes and get away with it.”
Wade McMullen of the Robert F. Kennedy Center for Human Rights praised the action, but said he hoped the administration “has learned a lot through this process,” so that responses to other countries with recently passed anti-LGBT legislation such as Russia and Nigeria “are under way.” And the next time a country passes a similar law, he added, hopefully “their ability to react more efficiently or effectively and take action sooner” is improved.
The White House will follow today’s announcement with a “Forum on Global LGBT Human Rights” on Tuesday with a keynote address from National Security Advisor Susan Rice.
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